GLG410--Computers in Earth and Space Exploration

Announcements Syllabus Schedule Weekly lecture notes Assignments Links Term Project


GLG 410 Computers in Geology. (3) Geological computer skills including data processing, visualization, presentation, numerical analysis, software and hardware applications. Satisfies General Studies CS Requirement: (computer/statistics/quantitative applications (CS) applies mathematical reasoning and requires students to complete a course in either the use of statistics/quantitative analysis or the use of the computer to assist in serious analytical math work) Enrollment requirements: Pre-requisites: GLG 101 or SES 121 with C or better

Ramón Arrowsmith
Office hours: by appt.
Office #: 480-965-3541

Teaching Assistant:
Adam Schreiner-McGraw
Office hours: by appt.
Office #: 480-727-3560

Classroom: PSH-461
Monday and Wednesday 12-1:30 pm
GLG410 line #: 90911, 3 units

No Textbook; only handouts and web pages


Why Computers in Earth and Space Exploration? We try to understand the physical processes that operate within and on the earth and other planets and to interpret the history of geologic events, evaluate active events, and anticipate future ones. To do so, we use the conceptual tools of physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics and our (geo-) scientific intuition. As we work, we often gather and need to manage datasets. To progress in our understanding, we compare them with other datasets and with conceptual or theoretical models of how the earth or other planets work. Computers help us to learn about and gain intuition related to our conceptual tools, and they help us to manage and manipulate our datasets and often to generate predictions that we compare with our data (Hypothesis-testing). Computers in themselves are only the means to get to the understanding, evaluation, and anticipation that we seek. We have to be careful to be scientists (geoscience leads the activity), rather than technicians (the method or tool or computer leads the activity).

Practically speaking, there are many different angles to the question of what should (geo-) scientists know about computers and their use. I think that you can put it two ways: 1) knowledge of the specific applications and mixtures of applications necessary to gather and manipulate data and models and to present the results, and 2) knowledge of the general role of computers in our society and in the world today. There is a growing gap between the people who understand and know how to use computers, and those who do not. You need to be on the side of the former. A related and important topic is what we should know about mathematics, biology, physics, and chemistry. Computers are increasingly part of the practice of math, biology, physics, and chemistry, and thus earth and space science

A dilemma that I see for this course is where we should put our feet between specific applications, general literacy, and analytical tools. I will try to steer the class somewhere in the range of equal time among these, with a slightly greater emphasis on the analytical aspects because that can be harder to learn by yourself.

Objectives and outcomes

This course is designed to teach analytical thinking in earth and space exploration using computing applications. As such, it is intended to satisfy the University's General Studies CS requirements. The class is aimed at the advanced undergraduate and beginning graduate students in our school.

The modular approach permits the course to focus on different science problems varying from Internet applications, data analysis, 3D visualization, simulation, and presentation of results. At the end of the course, the students are expected to be able to solve earth and space science problems using computers.


The 3 credit hour course consists of two days of 1.5 hour combined lectures/labs.

Grades are 70% for quizzes, lab, and homework exercises and 30% for a project presented to the class.

Grades will not be assigned on a curve. There is not a predetermined number of As, Bs, or Cs. You are competing against my expectations, not your classmates. We have different expectations for graduate students taking this course. We will occasionally post point totals so you can see how you are doing. The way to get a good grade in this course is consistent productivity. Don't miss any assignments, and keep up with the lectures, the labs, and the reading. If you have questions or difficulties, come talk to us.

We entertain valid requests for extensions of homework deadlines. However it is in your best interest to get the homework done on time. Unexcused late homeworks will be assessed a late penalty of -10%/day that they are late.


Class attendance is mandatory. If you have to miss class, please let us know and we can work something out. Much of the content is available on the class web pages. You will be excused for appropriate religious holidays or university-sanctioned activities.

Classroom behavior

Please set pagers and cell phones to ‘silent mode’ during class. We will be working in the newly upgraded H461 computer lab. Treat this place with respect and avoid damaging the computers or letting unauthorized people in the room.

Academic Integrity Statement

Academic honesty is expected of all students in all examinations, papers, laboratory work, academic transactions and records. The possible sanctions include, but are not limited to, appropriate grade penalties, course failure (indicated on the transcript as a grade of E), course failure due to academic dishonesty (indicated on the transcript as a grade of XE), loss of registration privileges, disqualification and dismissal. For more information, see

Disability Policy Statement

An effort will be made to render this course fully accessible to all students. Qualified students with disabilities who will require disability accommodations in this class are encouraged to make their requests to me at the beginning of the semester either during office hours or by appointment. Note: Prior to receiving disability accommodations, verification of eligibility from the Disability Resource Center (DRC) is required. Students who feel they will need disability accommodations in this class but have not registered with the Disability Resource Center (DRC) should contact DRC immediately. Their office is located on the first floor of the Matthews Center Building. DRC staff can also be reached at: 480-965-1234 (V), 480-965-9000 (TTY). Their hours are 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Monday through Friday. Disability information is confidential. For additional information, visit:

SESE Student Success Center